Tree burials in Japan

As early as the 1970s, public officials in Japan were concerned about a lack of adequate burial space in urban areas. They offered a variety of novel solutions, from cemeteries in distant resort towns where families could organize a vacation around a visit for traditional graveside rituals, to chartered bus trips to rural areas to bury loved ones. Beginning in 1990, the Grave-Free Promotion Society, a volunteer social organization, publicly advocated for the scattering of human ashes.

Since 1999, the Shōunji temple in northern Japan has attempted to offer a more innovative solution to this crisis through Jumokusō, or “tree burials.” In these burials, families place cremated remains in the ground and a tree is planted over the ashes to mark the gravesite…

While many families electing for tree burials do not explicitly identify as Buddhist or associate with a Buddhist temple, the practice reflects Japanese Buddhism’s larger interest in environmental responsibility. Perhaps influenced by Shinto beliefs about gods living in the natural world, Japanese Buddhism has historically been unique among Buddhist traditions for its focus on the environmental world.

All good news as far as I’m concerned. Over time, both of my parents were cremated and ended up in our family flower garden.

I wouldn’t mind just blowing in the wind up on top of the Caja del Rio mesa. Many fond memories of exploring walks up top. It commands the view to the West every day on my fenceline exercise walks.

Prepared for burial with respect


With respect: One day, photographer Jasper Doest and his daughter Fleur, 7, found a dead finch while walking. “Fleur wanted to bury her, but since I didn’t know what caused her death, I didn’t want to carry her in my bare hands,” Doest writes. “We decided to take her in the only item we carried in our pockets—a disposable face mask (carried as a backup in case we forget our reusable ones).” Back home, they put the finch on the ground, and Fleur suggested they use the mask as a blanket until they dug a hole. Doerst wanted to honor this finch. More than 400,000 people have liked his image since it was posted on our [National Geographic] Instagram page.

Save endangered species — over our dead bodies

Entrance to White Eagle Memorial PreserveJodie Buller

The secret to the survival of critically endangered wildlife could lie beyond the grave, according to a University of Queensland researcher.

The ARC Centre of Excellence for Environmental Decisions’ Dr Matthew Holden suggests revenue from human burials could fund nature reserves and parks for threatened species, effectively amounting to dead humans protecting living creatures…

“The nature reserve could be placed in an area that specifically maximises benefits for endangered wildlife, or also in cities to increase the societal benefits of natural urban greenspace.”…

They could generate revenue that exceeds the amount of money needed to save every threatened species on the planet,” Dr Holden said.

“In the US alone, 2.7 million people die each year, with an estimated funeral revenue of US$19 billion – far more than the estimated $3-$5 billion required to protect every threatened species listed by the international Union for the Conservation of Nature.

It would be nice to know your death did some good for species endangered by your own species. Think about that.

Bureaucrats in DC deny Arlington Cemetery to women pilots from World War 2

Click to enlargeHarmon family photo

First Lt. Elaine Danforth Harmon, a Women’s Airforce Service Pilot, or WASP, was one of many women who served their country when it needed them the most. More than 70 years after Harmon flew military aircraft, her family wants to place her ashes at Arlington National Cemetery.

Harmon, a Congressional Gold Medal recipient, died in April 2015 at the age of 95. Her daughter, Terry Harmon, sought to fulfill her mother’s wish to be inurned at Arlington’s Columbarium. However, she received a call from the cemetery telling her that former WASPs were ineligible for inurnment, a fact she argues contradicts an earlier decision.

The result is a new chapter in a long-running fight — wrapped inside a bureaucratic rigmarole — over resting privileges for America’s World War II-era women pilots.

The WASPs emerged during a period of rapid change and progress for the U.S. military. As the shadows of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan loomed, two female aviators, Nancy Harkness Love and Jacqueline Cochrane, proposed two separate plans to train female pilots in the event of American entry into the war…

Love’s first group included 28 female pilots and became the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron. Cochrane’s squadron soon followed, comprising 30 women. This group would later become the WASPs. They helped alleviate manpower shortages by taking on jobs in the home front, allowing the men to fight overseas.

In her last report to Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold, commander of the U.S. Army Air Forces, Cochrane noted 1,074 pilots made it into the WASPs’ tough training program, out of the 25,000 who applied.

Among these women was Elaine Harmon…

❝“This is our national cemetery. This is our most hallowed ground and it’s just not credible that they would turn away these women, considering how long they fought for their veterans’ rights,” Terry Harmon said. “They were an integral part of supporting the army during World War II. The Army was the branch of the service they served in and it’s the Army that’s turning them away from Arlington Cemetery.”

I’m never surprised when any branch of public service dominated by a good ol’ boys network discriminates against women. They are, after all, the same sort of cretins who supported racist rules for decades, gender identity-discrimination even longer. They’re reaching out like any obedient conservative bigot to hang onto each remaining strand of bigotry like it’s holy writ.

RTFA for the history of women pilots in the war. And more.

NYC medical examiner forgets to include baby’s brain for burial

A New York City mother said she was shocked to find out the city medical examiner’s office kept her baby’s brain after an autopsy.

Cindy Bradshaw and her husband received a call from Dr. Rachel Lange, of the medical examiner’s office, on May 4, alerting them that their infant son Gianni’s brain was still at the medical examiner’s office…

The call came in just hours after Gianni’s funeral and four days after his body was picked up from the medical examiner.

“She said, ‘Oh, I forgot to tell you the brain was missing,'” Bradshaw said of her conversation with Lange. “And she said that like she had known me for many years and we were having a casual conversation.”

The brain was returned to Bradshaw and her husband, who had to pay additional costs to have it cremated…

Bradshaw was even more shocked to find out her son was at least the fourth person whose brain had been kept without their families’ knowledge by the medical examiner’s office after an autopsy…

A spokeswoman for the medical examiner’s office said only that “the city shares its greatest sympathy with the family on their loss.”

Har. Not entirely off the subject – but, this reminds me of the classic description of the writer Richard Matheson. Harlan Ellison once said – “”Matheson has the heart of a small child. He keeps it in a jar on his desk.”

There is more to discuss of course. Starting with bureaucratic insensitivity. But, you aren’t surprised by that — are you?

Neolithic tomb complex discovered – while landscaping

Archaeologists on Orkney are investigating what is thought to be a 5,000-year-old tomb complex.

A local man stumbled on the site while using a mechanical digger for landscaping.

It appears to contain a central passageway and multiple chambers excavated from rock…

“Potentially these skeletons could tell us so much about Neolithic people,” said Orkney Islands Council archaeologist Julie Gibson. “Not only in relation to their deaths, but their lives.”

One end of the tomb was accidentally removed as it was discovered and as a result, the burial site has now been flooded. Archaeologists are in a race against time to recover its contents before they are damaged or destroyed.

“There might also be other material, pottery or organics such as woven grass, buried in there – which cannot last under the circumstances,” said Ms Gibson.

“Call before you dig” only works for gas lines and phone cables.

The team are posting daily video updates from the excavations which are expected to take 10 days.

Supreme Court turns away 9/11 ashes burial case

Relatives of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks have lost a bid to get the Supreme Court to rule on whether New York City must provide a proper burial for material taken from the World Trade Center site, because it could contain the ashes of victims.

The justices declined on Monday to hear an appeal of a lower court’s ruling in a suit brought by relatives of some of the people killed when the twin towers collapsed. Lower courts dismissed the suit against the city, saying it acted responsibly in moving materials from the site in Lower Manhattan to a landfill on Staten Island and then sifting through the material for human remains.

The plaintiffs wanted the ashes buried in a cemetery after they were sifted again. None of the remains of roughly 1,100 of the people who were killed in the attacks have been found.

I realize the cumulative loss is enormous. Americans should also look around at the world and the miserable history of our species killing large numbers of each other.

The people of London, the people of Dresden, the myriad victims of the Holocaust, so many others never felt compelled to demand the ashes from tragedy and fire should be specially interred – including all the rites of the several religions of those who died.

I am not surprised that Americans feel themselves more special than all those others. Still doesn’t justify the demand.

States and municipalities take over indigent burials

Forensic Anthropological Research Center trainees

Coroners and medical examiners across the country are reporting spikes in the number of unclaimed bodies and indigent burials, with states, counties and private funeral homes having to foot the bill when families cannot.

The increase comes as governments short on cash are cutting other social service programs, with some municipalities dipping into emergency and reserve funds to help cover the costs of burials or cremations…

About a dozen states now subsidize the burial or cremation of unclaimed bodies, including Illinois, Massachusetts, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Most of the state programs provide disposition services to people on Medicaid, a cost that has grown along with Medicaid rolls…

Already in 2009, Wisconsin has paid for 15 percent more cremations than it did last year, as the number of Medicaid recipients grew by more than 95,000 people since the end of January…

The majority of burials and cremations, however, are handled on the city, county, town or township level, an added economic stress as many places face down wide budget gaps…

Many places are turning to cremation, which averages a third to half the price of a burial. However, they will accommodate families’ requests for burial…

RTFA. Hard times affect every aspect of life.

Though there are some interesting solutions – I must admit. Check out the “body farm” in Tennessee.

Home Burial alternative to rules from the religion-as-business crowd

When Nathaniel Roe, 92, died at his 18th-century farmhouse here the morning of June 6, his family did not call a funeral home to handle the arrangements.

Instead, Mr. Roe’s children, like a growing number of people nationwide, decided to care for their father in death as they had in the last months of his life. They washed Mr. Roe’s body, dressed him in his favorite Harrods tweed jacket and red Brooks Brothers tie and laid him on a bed so family members could privately say their last goodbyes.

The next day, Mr. Roe was placed in a pine coffin made by his son, along with a tuft of wool from the sheep he once kept. He was buried on his farm in a grove off a walking path he traversed each day.

It just seemed like the natural, loving way to do things,” said Jennifer Roe-Ward, Mr. Roe’s granddaughter. “It let him have his dignity.”

Advocates say the number of home funerals, where everything from caring for the dead to the visiting hours to the building of the coffin is done at home, has soared in the last five years, putting the funerals “where home births were 30 years ago,” according to Chuck Lakin, a home funeral proponent and coffin builder in Waterville, Me.

The cost savings can be substantial, all the more important in an economic downturn. The average American funeral costs about $6,000 for the services of a funeral home, in addition to the costs of cremation or burial. A home funeral can be as inexpensive as the cost of pine for a coffin (for a backyard burial) or a few hundred dollars for cremation or several hundred dollars for cemetery costs.

The Roes spent $250.

RTFA. Thoughtful, useful, productive. It’s something I’ve considered and the best I came up with before reading this article was pre-paying for cremation – and having my ashes turned over to my [much younger] wife to do with as she wishes. I kind of prefer widely scattered fertilizer, myself.

Green burial – A dying wish to be a home for fish

Carole Dunham, 69, loved the ocean. Last July, she was diagnosed with cancer and had only a few months to live. Dunham knew her last footprint had to be a green one, and she started looking into eco-friendly alternatives to traditional burial. Carole Dunham, 69, had her remains memorialized on an offshore reef.

The concept of “going green” has taken new life in the death care industry as eco-minded companies tap into the needs of those like Dunham.

From biodegradable caskets to natural burial sites, death is becoming less of a dark matter than a green one.

Dunham, an avid scuba diver, chose an eco-friendly company that would combine her cremated remains to form an artificial memorial reef.

“She loved the idea of always being in the water as an alternative to being cremated and scattered,” said her daughter Nina Dunham.

Along with its dead, the United States buries 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete, 827,060 tons of toxic embalming fluid, 90,000 tons of steel (from caskets), and 30 million tons of hardwood board each year, according to the Green Burial Council, an independent nonprofit organization based in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“We can rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge with that amount of metal,” said Joe Sehee, the council’s executive director. “The amount of concrete is enough to build a two-line highway from New York to Detroit.”

RTFA. Plenty of interesting anecdotal detail.

Must admit my first response was that the average American couldn’t deal with this. But, then, that’s what I said about cremation decades ago. There are some ideas – like electing a Liberal Black Democrat as president or saving money while building a healthier environment for future generations – that finally do sink into our collective consciousness.

Maybe we’re getting educated?